You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen. But the one you recall when you hear the word “reindeer” is Rudolph.
The original 8 look the same and do the same things. One might be slightly faster. Another might be stronger. They all can fly and pull Santa’s sleigh. But overall, there’s nothing to help any of them really stand out from the other reindeer. If anything, their advantage can possibly be duplicated by another reindeer with enough practice so it might not be an advantage for very long.
This is the struggle so many small business owners face every day – they all look like their competition and offer the same products or services.
So how can Rudolph help us in this analogy? Why is he the go-to reindeer?
And it isn’t that he changed who he was; he simply embraced a part of himself. As Sally Hogshead often says, “Different is better than better,” and that couldn’t be more true when it comes to business and branding. You can try to compete on price, but that’s a losing battle. You can try to compete with some new product or service, but that can almost always be duplicated. When you compete by emphasizing who you are and infuse it into everything you do, nobody else can possibly overtake that advantage.
But the lessons don’t end at differentiation.
As you might remember from the story, Rudolph becomes the lead reindeer because he can help Santa with a specific problem of a foggy night. He quite literally made Santa’s day (or night, as it were) a little brighter. And that slightly better level of service allowed Rudolph to go down in history as “the most famous reindeer of all.”
Incredibly, that’s all it takes anymore to become known for quality customer service – making someone’s day a little brighter. The expectation level for customer service is extremely low. Peter Shankman (one of my favorite writers on the topic) is known for saying he doesn’t tell companies that their customer service needs to be great or even good. They just need to be “one level above crap” and people will be amazed (and share it with the world).
One of Peter’s most often used examples of this is Morton’s (a famous steakhouse chain). The restaurant gets customer service right in both big and small ways.
Big Way: When Shankman jokingly tweeted on a long flight that he’d like to have a steak from Morton’s waiting for him when he got off the plane, they actually prepared one and had it hand delivered to him before he even made it to baggage claim. You better believe that got talked about, shared, and made several people take notice of the steakhouse.
Small Way: Any time you call Morton’s to make a reservation, they’ll ask if you’re celebrating anything. If you say “Yes, it’s my wife’s birthday,” they’ll ask for her name. And when you arrive at the restaurant, the menu they’ll hand to your wife will have been custom printed for her with a simple “Happy Birthday, Kim” across the top. It’s certainly on a much smaller scale than delivering steak to the airport, but it makes an impression and gets shared many times over nonetheless.
Customer service (or lack thereof) drives the conversation about brands on social media. Every platform is an amplifier. One person’s slightly bad experience can be shared many times over resulting in thousands (or even millions) taking in the story and harming your brand’s reputation. On the flip side, what might seem like a small gesture of caring or kindness will also be shared and multiplied, building up your brand’s status.
Ultimately, the best way any small business can succeed and grow is to embrace its individual nuances and go the extra mile (or even just an inch) in their customer service. It’s the best way to stand out from the herd, truly shine, and take the lead.